Are Credit Default Swaps Credit Default Insurances?

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Christian Schmaltz
Periklis Thivaios

Keywords

Credit Default Swaps, Insurance Contract, Credit Default Insurance

Abstract

No, they are not. Although they exhibit similar cash flow patterns (economic perspective) this article argues that from a legal, accounting and regulatory perspective credit default swaps (CDS) are not considered to be an insurance contract. The protection buyer of a CDS is eligible to obtain the compensation without suffering any loss (and potentially realizing a gain) whereas insurance policies only pay out to compensate a loss (and not potentially realizing a gain). This disconnect between protection and exposure is the source for potential over-coverage. Furthermore, the concentrated set of reference entities and (interbank) counterparties as well as their tradeability make CDSs highly systemically significant products. Our conclusion is that CDSs are not default insurance policies. We propose to use default protection instead of credit default insurance to avoid the mislabelling. Furthermore, CDS have a substantial systemic risk potential which sharply contrasts to the limited systemic risk in the insurance industry. The legal classification of CDS as insurance contracts would have an enormous impact on the liquidity of CDS, as the ability of counterparties to issue and participate in CDS contracts would be limited.

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